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FBI-controlled AN0M App Ensnares Scores of Alleged Criminals in Global Police Sting

Accepted submission by upstart at 2021-06-08 10:15:56
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FBI-controlled AN0M app ensnares scores of alleged criminals in global police sting [washingtonpost.com]:

SYDNEY — The FBI and Australian police hatched a bold plan to ensnare criminals by duping them into using phones loaded with an encrypted messaging app that could be accessed by law enforcement.

And crime bosses allegedly fell for it, believing their communications were secure.

On Tuesday, Australian police said [afp.gov.au] they had carried out hundreds of search warrants in the past 24 hours and arrested 224 people, with simultaneous stings taking place in Europe and the United States. New Zealand police said they detained 35 people [police.govt.nz], including top members of criminal gangs.

For nearly three years, law enforcement officials have been sitting in the back pocket of some of the world’s top alleged crime figures. Custom cellphones, bought on the black market and installed with the FBI-controlled platform, called AN0M, circulated and grew in popularity among criminals as high-profile crime identities vouched for its integrity.

The FBI in the past has dismantled encrypted platforms used by criminals to communicate, and infiltrated others. This operation saw the FBI create a closed encrypted app, AN0M, to fill the void and to target organized crime, drug trafficking and money laundering activities across the globe by monitoring people’s communications about their criminal offending.

A breakthrough came after Australian police met with the FBI in 2018, over a couple of beers, according to officials [abc.net.au]. The AFP then built a technical capability to access, decrypt and read communications on the FBI’s platform.

The users believed their AN0M devices were secured by encryption. Rather, they were feeding criminal intelligence directly to law enforcement agents.

“Essentially, they have handcuffed each other by endorsing and trusting AN0M and openly communicating on it — not knowing we were watching the entire time,” Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said.

The global operation, known as Special Operation Ironside in Australia and Trojan Shield in the United States, has allegedly exposed criminals linked to South American drug cartels, Triad groups in Asia, and criminal syndicates based in the Middle East and Europe.

The operation has “struck a heavy blow against organized crime," Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. "Not just in this country, but one that will echo around organized crime around the world.”

More than 9,000 law enforcement officers were involved across 18 countries. The AFP said it charged more than 100 organized crime members over alleged crimes including plots to kill, drug trafficking and gun distribution.

“The FBI, with our international partners, will continue to adapt to criminal behavior and develop novel approaches to bring these criminals to justice,” said Anthony Russo, the FBI’s International Operations Division legal attache for Canberra, in a statement.

Since the covert operation began, Australian police have seized 3.7 tons of drugs, 104 weapons, and some $35 million in cash. During that time, the alleged criminals had no idea why their drugs were being seized, and their plots foiled. Police said they disrupted a number of possible homicides, including one plot involving plans to shoot a family of five at a cafe.

Law-enforcement officials in Europe and the United States were expected to address the global operation in further briefings later Tuesday.

Read more:

[How America’s surveillance networks helped the FBI catch the Capitol mob [washingtonpost.com]]

[Massive camera hack exposes the growing reach and intimacy of American surveillance [washingtonpost.com]]

[More U.S. citizens apprehended for moving drugs over border [washingtonpost.com]]

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